The Boy Behind the Curtain


Tim Winton

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The Boy Behind the Curtain: Stones for Bread Summary & Analysis

When Winton considers the Australia he sees around him, he thinks of Jesus asking, “If a child asks you for bread, […] will you give him a stone?” As a Christian, Winton sees Palm Sunday as a reminder that when Jesus arrived on a parodic donkey at the gates of Jerusalem, he was beginning a movement of dissent that led to his execution. Yet Winton sees around him in modern Australia people who claim to follow Jesus but in fact are maintaining the status quo at others’ expense, particularly when it comes to Australia’s culture of xenophobia.
Winton’s connection to faith is evident here, and his connection between Jesus and the refugees asking for entrance to Australia suggests that his relationship with Christianity is based in the ideas of kindness, love, and charity, rather than any kind of religious insularity. The contradictions between people’s proclaimed faith and their hostile actions are the same contradictions that led Winton to slip away from church life, which is perhaps partly why he feels so repulsed by the hypocrisy he sees around him.
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When refugees arrive in Australia, they’re labeled “illegals” and mocked or ignored. The country battles against any obligation they might have to help them. Winton suggests that Australians weren’t always so scared of strangers or so hostile to those seeking refuge; in 1970, huge numbers of Vietnamese refugees found safety here. But now, common sense is to respond cruelly to refugees—just as common sense accepted child labor as normal in the days of Charles Dickens. That Victorian common sense led to convicts being shipped from England to Australia, many of whom are the ancestors of the very people refusing refuge to those in need these days.
Winton’s discomfort in the face of apathy and his disgust for sensational, illogical thinking here echoes his frustration with people who use their fear of sharks to excuse cruelty towards the creatures. Winton is disappointed in the current widespread mindset of exceptionalism and a lack of desire to help others, partly because he’s so knowledgeable about his country and his ancestry.
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Winton is ashamed of Australia’s methods of cruelty toward refugees. He thinks the government hides refugees’ humanity from the public so that people consider those refugees more like cargo than individual people. He considers how Australia has exempted itself from the moral obligations of the rest of the world, refusing to be told what it should do. The fears of Australians have led to a loss of general human decency and self-respect. Winton appeals to the Prime Minister and the Australian people to reflect on this insular attitude and reconsider the way they treat strangers in need.
Similarly to the sharks Winton describes hanging from gantries with their measurements painted on in “The Demon Shark,” tactics of dehumanization and cold, clinical distance function powerfully in Australian society to make people feel exempt from helping refugees in search of asylum. Winton’s direct address to his audience at the end of the essay suggests he's not afraid to use his platform to encourage people to make change.
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